Friday, August 24, 2012

Two Different Directions

One fascinating change that's occurring in the American church has to do with size. A consistent trend exists today for churches becoming either bigger or smaller. They are moving in two different directions.

We're all aware of the modern phenomenon that is the rise of the mega church. Click here for a prime example. We also have seen many Christians moving toward smaller groupings. This usually takes some form of simple/organic/house church life.

As groups become either bigger or smaller, it is the congregational size churches that either are or will be facing great challenges. These churches typically run 100-300 people. As time goes on and folks leave congregational churches for either much bigger or much smaller groups, the 100-300 size church will gradually die out. This is not to say that these medium size churches will no longer exist, but that they will no longer be the dominant model of church life.

(As an aside, I write from an American perspective here. I admit to ignorance when it comes to what is happening in the church in other countries. If you reside in another part of the world, I'd love to hear what is occurring where you are.)

These size changes lead to a question for us: How can we in small churches work with those in large churches to make disciples?

It is painfully obvious for all involved that those of us in simple church life reject almost all of the shenanigans that go on in the mega church. However, there are many Christians in mega churches who want to make disciples just as much as we do. Therefore, we have a challenge of working with them while at the same time not working under the constraints of their large institutional framework. How can we do this?

First, we must always remember that it is Jesus Christ who unites us, not our view of the church. This is a great challenge since our understanding of the church is so different from that of most Christians in the institution. Since our unity is in Christ, we must look to His call for unity in His church. Unity has no loopholes.

Second, we must avoid the trap of isolating ourselves from believers in mega churches. If we know other Christians in the workplace, neighborhood, etc., let's see how we can work together instead of avoiding them.

Third, one of the positives of the rise of the mega church is the corresponding rise of the small group. Mega churches, at least to some degree, understand that community is necessary in the body. This cannot come through their large gatherings, so they have small groups of one type or another. Some of these groups function somewhat like simple churches. We can draw on these commonalities as we work together.

Fourth, working together to make disciples can often be a simple process. Much can be done in homes or coffee shops. The mega church institution does not even have to be involved. Staying away from the mega church structure is not as difficult as it may seem.

Finally, we must remember that disciple making is the mission of the church. We cannot push it to the back burner. Additionally, Jesus did not tell His followers to only work together with those they agreed with on church issues. They were all to come together for the cause of the Great Commission. By extension, we have this same commission. We must find ways to work with those in mega churches to make disciples.

As church size continues to change in this country, we need to be ready to work with our brothers and sisters in mega churches. This does not require us to accept all they believe about church. However, it does require us to focus on unity and find ways to come together despite our obvious differences.

12 comments:

David Rogers said...

Eric,

Thank you for your grace and humility as represented in this post.

While I personally sympathize with much (if not practically all) of the "simple church paradigm," I think the big flaw, in many instances, of the "simple church movement" is the failure to recognize that a very high percentage of the authentic Body of Christ around the world meets in structures that are different than than those they advocate.

Joel Zehring said...

There are 6.5 million people in Arizona, my home state. The biggest church in the state (www.ccvonline.com) attracts 15,000 each weekend.

It would take 432 mega churches of this size to reach the whole state for Jesus.

windblownhope said...

I love your way of thinking. I believe it is possible, but two issues will have to be looked at.

Trust - Congregations tend to be wary of those who are not in line with the status quo.

Time of walk outside the system - People who leave the organised part of church tend to try and convert as many people over to their side of believing. In other words all they talk about is how wrong the bigger church is or how lovely the small is. It becomes a bigger issue than Jesus. People who made peace with their walk outside the organised system tend to be at peace within it and thus move freely in both worlds. They have a better change to disciple people in homes and coffee shops :-)

Aussie John said...

Eric,

The only mega church I'm aware of here is predominantly about making money.

Larger churches are inclined to think of those who function as simple churches as rather suspect (they might steal our sheep), and therefore are to be avoided.

I am fully on board with you on the matter, but it does cut both ways.

Chris Jefferies said...

I live in the UK and we don't have mega church in the way you do in the US. As far as I'm aware one or two thousand is pretty much as big as it gets.

But I've been thinking along the same lines as you. I meet regularly with very small groups of two or three friends at a time. But once a week I am part of my wife's small group from Open Door, a New Frontiers church in our town. And it has been so good; they welcome me and hear what I have to bring.

I do believe there are changes coming in church life.

And here's more on my current thinking on little and large structures in the church.

Eric said...

David,

If we, as the church, are going to take the Great Commission seriously, then we must overcome our differences and work together. This may seem like it would be uncomfortable, but my guess is that it will be joyful instead. I love spending time with other believers. The challenge will be to find ways of working together that we can agree upon. We must do so.

Eric said...

Joel,

Do you think there is a better option than 432 mega-churches?

Eric said...

windblownhope,

Thanks for commenting. You make an excellent point. The Great Commission is about making disciples for Christ, not for a specific model of church life. It is easy to lose focus and get distracted from what is most important. We have to fight against this.

Eric said...

Aussie John,

I agree with you; however, most folks within the mega church model see church life only through that exclusive lens. We will likely have to reach out to them to make this happen.

Eric said...

Chris,

Thanks for sharing. It's great that you are meeting with various Christians in different settings. I'm always fascinated to hear about what is happening in the church in other parts of the world. Small groups certainly are a blessing.

John said...

This is a very good word, Eric. I also meet in a simple church setting, and it has been a breath of fresh air for a number of reasons. The point you bring up under the paragraph beginning "Fourth," is key. There has been a rise in small group meetings, and perhaps, if only by example, some of those folks will begin to see that in many ways, it's really this simple! And you're right, "The mega church institution does not even have to be involved." Our attitude toward those in an institution of this sort should never be condescending if have any belief in unity and love whatsoever. Thanks brother!

John

Eric said...

John,

Thanks.

As Christ's church, the only way we will make multitudes of disciples is by working together. We must find a way to work through our differences to make this occur. Let's try!